There’re some incredible places to visit in New Zealand, from beautiful beaches that go on for miles, exhilarating hikes, stunning scenery and so much more. But where are the best places to visit in New Zealand?
To help you plan your trip to New Zealand and visit the best places the country has to offer, we have asked a number of experienced travellers. They give us the low down on all of the most beautiful and incredible places you should visit, when on holiday in New Zealand.
We have selected a range of things to do, both on the north and south of the island, that you really should visit while you’re there.
Let’s get down to the recommended places you should visit on a trip to New Zealand.
Table of Contents
Best places to visit in New Zealand
To help you plan your holiday, we have separated the places to visit in New Zealand between the North and South Island.
Some of the best places to visit in the south island of New Zealand
An approximate 1 and a half hour scenic drive from Christchurch, along State Highway 75, Akaroa is a small town found on the shores of the Banks Peninsula.
A coach to Akaroa departs daily at 9am from the Central Bus Station in Christchurch, and takes guests through the sweeping hills of Canterbury, before arriving in the little coastal town.
The town of Akaroa is famous for its bespoke 19th Century French and British architecture, making it one of the best, and most unique, places to visit in the South Island of New Zealand.
On top of its fascinating architecture, Akaroa is also a major stop-off point for huge, ocean-line cruisers arriving to the shores of New Zealand from Australia and beyond.
Visitors to Akaroa can explore the town by foot, nipping in and out of the many bakeries, cafes and restaurants that line the streets of the little French settlement.
Perhaps the most appealing aspect of any visit to the Banks Peninsula, and indeed Akaroa, is the chance to discover some of the extraordinary marine animals that call the region their home.
Jump on board one of the famous Black Cat Wildlife Cruises and drift in and out of the numerous bays and coves that litter Akaroa Harbour. On your journey, you may be fortunate enough to spot Marine Birds, Little Blue Penguins, and even the world’s largest population of Hector’s Dolphins.
Before wrapping up your trip to Akaroa, be sure to head to the town’s resident lighthouse – originally in situ at the mouth of Akaroa Harbour, it was retired to its current location in the 1980s and now sits proudly alongside the residents of the quaint coastal town.
Akaroa may not be as famous as some of the other major towns and cities in the country, but it certainly offers some of the most magnificent, Kiwi Landscapes that can be found anywhere on the South Island.
Contributed by Ben from Ticket 4 Two Please
Without a doubt one of my favourite places in the entirety of New Zealand is Queenstown. The adventure capital of the land of the long white cloud, and the world, is not only full of adventure but beautiful picturesque surroundings.
Getting to Queenstown is also an adventure in itself. Having its own international airport means you are able to fly directly in. And the flight in is spectacular! Snow-capped mountains on either side, make it a scenic flight in itself. Otherwise, if you wish to road trip it in, make sure you hire a motorhome or campervan and enjoy the spectacular scenery as you arrive from any direction.
If you haven’t already noticed I love Queenstown for its scenery. If I am honest it is the prettiest city I have ever visited. Situated on Lake Wakatipu and surrounded by mountains, perfect for skiing and snowboarding in the winter you won’t be disappointed. The best place to take in the surroundings is at the top of the Skyline gondola where you can enjoy a meal at the Stratosfare Restaurant or enjoy the cool and crazy luge track if you are up for it.
If adventure is more your scene the options are endless. From jetboating, bungy jumping, skydiving, hang-gliding or white water rafting you won’t be disappointed. Likewise, if you love food, Queenstown has a large array of delicious restaurants.
So without a doubt, if you are heading to New Zealand you must must must make a stop in the beautiful city of Queenstown. You won’t regret it.
Contributed by Lauren from Luxury Travel Hacks
New Zealand is full of incredible places to visit, but the south east coast of the South Island is often overlooked. The Catlins is of the more remote areas of the country and can easily be cut out by driving directly between Queenstown and Christchurch, but the Catlins are very much worth including in any NZ itinerary.
There’s a few ways to get to the Catlins. The most common would be as part of a road trip loop through the South Island. Either driving along the coast from Dunedin to Invercargill or vice versa. Our pick would be to drive down the west coast, visit Queenstown and Milford Sound before driving over to The Catlin’s.
Once you make it to The Catlin’s, you’ll be impressed by the epic scenery and untouched landscapes. Everything is conveniently located along the coast meaning it’s easy to drive for a few days and hit all of the spots. Technically, you could get a lot done in just one day if you’re short on time as well.
One of the most popular things to do in The Catlins is definitely visiting the Nugget Point Lighthouse. We reckon this is a great reason in itself to visit as it’s one of the best sunrises in the country. The iconic photo is taken near the end of the walkway looking out over the lighthouse and the ‘nuggets’ jutting out of the ocean.
Aside from Nugget Point, The Catlins are also home to numerous incredible waterfalls, uninterfered wildlife and quirky attractions (there’s a caravan filled with contraptions). You probably won’t find any great restaurants or hotels, but you’ll get to experience some of the best scenery and wildlife in NZ.
Contributed by Delilah from Our Travel Mix
Cycling in Otago
The Otago region of the South Island is a magnet for travellers who enjoy stunning scenery and exploring the historical roots of a destination. With an impressive network of off-road hiking and cycling trails, there’s the opportunity to do both. A host of bike-touring services make things easy by supplying bikes, maps, accommodation bookings, and shuttle services for several days of leisurely self-directed cycling.
The Roxburgh Gorge Trail joins the Clutha Gold Trail. Beginning in Alexandra and ending in Lawrence, the two trails offer plenty of variety and contrast over 94 kilometres. There’s an option to add 12 kilometres by starting in the picturesque town of Clyde.
The Roxburgh Gorge Trail is carved into the steep rocky slopes of the gorge overlooking the Clutha Mata-au River. There’s a 12-kilometre gap in the trail (as in no trail) when a jet-boat transfer with informative commentary passes historic gold-rush dwellings. It’s a definite highlight. The trail climbs higher as it approaches the Lake Roxburgh Hydro Dam producing some impressive scenery.
The Clutha Gold Trail is markedly different from the Roxburgh Gorge Trail. It meanders across the flat and undulating terrain of farmland and forests. Along the way, it passes the four settlements of Roxburgh, Millers Flat, Beaumont, and Lawrence. For most of the way, the trail hugs the shore of the fast-flowing Clutha Mata-au River.
The trail ends in Lawrence, Otago’s first gold-rush town. From there, it’s possible to take a bike shuttle back to the starting point of Alexandra or Clyde.
Contributed by Anne from Packing Light Travel
Tucked along the western coast of South Island is Milford Sound, New Zealand’s most famous (and incredibly breathtaking) fjord. Although it’s a bit out of the way, it is beyond worth visiting! I promise, the only regret you’ll have is not making the drive out there.
Travelers of all ages will either rent a campervan or take a day trip to the Sound. For the average visitor, I recommend either joining a tour or driving yourself. Personally, I drove and had plenty of time to complete a few trails (tours typically skip these), stop at any point to admire scenery, and listen to podcasts. Avoiding those crowded tours made the experience much more tranquil (the busses are HUGE).
After arriving at Queenstown airport, rent a car and head down to Te Anau. Staying there will save you an additional two hours of drive time to Milford Sound.
The drive to Milford Sound from Te Anau (with excess time for stops) is roughly 4-5 hours one-way (2 hours non-stop). Along the way are numerous trails, waterfalls, crystal clear lakes, and valleys – but don’t stress! There are plenty of visible signs to guide you to each stop (but keep a map on you just in case – there’s no cell service out there).
Here are a few of the best stops:
- Mirror Lakes
- Lake Gunn
- Pop’s View
- The Chasm
Once you reach Milford Sound, purchase a ticket and sail through the majestic fjord where you’re surrounded by cascading waterfalls and towering peaks. This cruise is the cherry-on-top of the drive! No matter which tour you choose, you’ll be amazed by this natural wonder (it’s like staring into a photograph).
For a more detailed guide on what to see, do, and pack on your drive, check out this list of 10 incredible stops in Milford Sound. Happy traveling!
Contributed by Kylie from Kylie Nathan
Lake Pukaki is one of the most breathtaking lakes in the world with its vivid turquoise color and stellar views of Aoraki/Mount Cook in the background. The large glacial lake gets its bright turquoise colour from finely ground rock particles called rock flour that come from the surrounding glaciers. When the sun reflects the rock flour it gives off a bright turquoise color.
Lake Pukaki is located 2.5 hours northeast of Queenstown and 3.5 hours southwest of Christchurch. It’s a great spot to add to your exploration of the south island since it’s close to Aoroki/Mount Cook National Park and offers beautiful views of New Zealand’s highest peak.
There are many fun things to do at Lake Pukaki. During the daytime stop by for a picnic and take in the views or go for a refreshing swim. During the evening, admire the changing colors of the lake during sunset.
Lake Pukaki is also one of the best areas for freedom camping. Don’t miss adding this spot to your New Zealand campervan itinerary. On the eastern side of the lake there are many places to park your campervan for the night and you will likely have the spot all to yourself! It’s a magical place to spend the night.
Contributed by Cecily from Groovy Mashed Potatoes
Aoraki/Mt Cook National Park
If you’re visiting the South Island of New Zealand, Aoraki or Mt Cook National Park is a must to visit. It’s a beautiful place with hiking trails along alpine tracks, mountain streams and glacial lakes. In Māori mythology, Aoraki was the son of Rakinui, the sky father, whose body was turned to stone and now forms the huge mountain.
The mountain and surrounding national park are situated in the middle of the South Island, in the Canterbury region, and is only a couple of hours’ drive from the famous Lake Tekapo. The best way to visit Aoraki is by hiring a car and driving there yourself. The national park is in a beautiful setting and the drive there gives beautiful views of turquoise lakes and snow-capped mountains. The surrounding area is also in a dark-sky reserve, making the stars clearly visible on clear nights.
Mt Cook National Park is primarily known for its hiking and walking trails. While it does snow in winter, snow sports aren’t easily accessible – if you want to ski at Mt Cook, you’ll need to take a helicopter to reach the slopes. Hiking trails, however, are open year-round, with options suitable for all abilities.
When you arrive at Aoraki, you’ll find yourself surrounded by the Southern Alps, with hiking tracks which lead you through the spectacular landscapes. You can choose from short or longer walks with views of colourful lakes, glaciers and sweeping mountain views. One of the favourite trails is the Hooker Valley trail, a 3-hour return walk passing alpine streams and glaciers. There are also more advanced options for people with mountaineering experience. If you’re hiking in the national park in winter, just be sure you’re prepared for the alpine conditions.
Contributed by Roxanne from Faraway Worlds
Hands down, the best place to visit in New Zealand is Doubtful Sound. Doubtful Sound is located on New Zealand’s South Island, in Fiordland, south of its better-known counterpart, Milford Sound. Doubtful Sound is more remote and more challenging to reach than Milford Sound; however, it’s worth the effort if you have the time.
Fiordland National Park is dramatic, awe-inspiring, naturalistically unique, and Doubtful Sound provides the best viewing opportunity of the dramatic Fjords.
To visit Doubtful Sound, you’ll need 1-3 days, depending on whether you chose to do an overnight cruise. Due to its remoteness, you’ll need to book an excursion through a tour operator. To get to Doubtful Sound, you’ll drive out to Manapouri and cross Lake Manapouri via boat. The tour operator will then ferry you on a bus overland to Doubtful Sound.
From here, you have several options. You can opt for a one-day wilderness cruise, a 1 or 2 night overnight cruise, or a kayak excursion, amongst others. We chose to do a one-night overnight cruise, and it was the best balance of time, money, and exploration.
During the 1- and 2-night cruises, you’ll be able to swim in Doubtful Sound, kayak the Sound, wake up to the beautiful Doubtful Sound sunrise, and dine with a magnificent backdrop.
If you can fit a visit to Doubtful Sound into your New Zealand Itinerary, you will not regret it.
Contributed by Catherine from Traveling with the Littles
Lake Rotoiti, Tasman
If you’re planning a trip to New Zealand, then you have to add Lake Rotoiti to your itinerary.
Located in the Nelson Lakes National Park in the South Island, this beautiful lake and surrounding areas really need to be seen because of its quintessential New Zealand beauty.
The South Island is notoriously known for its mountainous landscape and Lake Rotoiti is surrounded by mountains that add to the dramatic landscape.
The lake is fed by the Travers River and is 82m deep. In the summer, the lake is full of boats tugging people around on biscuits, wakeboards, and water skis, making it the perfect summer destination. But, during the winter months, the mountains around the lake are covered in snow, ducks paddle by in the crystal clear water, and it becomes a ghost town because of the freezing water temperature.
However, if you choose to visit this gorgeous lake in winter, there are other things you can do in the area. Saint Arnaud is the closest town to Lake Rotoiti, sitting at the top of the lake. There, you can stay at the stunning German-inspired Alpine Lodge, wake up every morning to magical white snow and spend the day skiing or snowboarding at the Rainbow Ski Area.
So, how do you get to Lake Rotoiti? If you’re flying from anywhere in the country, fly into Nelson, pick up a car and drive south along State Highway 6. If you’re in Blenheim, the best and most beautiful way to get there is via the scenic Wairau Valley route.
No matter what way you choose to get there or what season you go, Lake Rotoiti is a must-see and you will not regret adding Lake Rotoiti to your New Zealand itinerary.
Contributed by Jasmine from Kiwi Talks Travel
Abel Tasman National Park
Abel Tasman National Park is situated in the Northwest of New Zealand’s South Island and should be included on any New Zealand itinerary. Marahau is the entry point into the park, this is about an hour drive from Nelson.
That being said, there is only a small part of the park that you can explore directly from Marahau. If you want to venture deeper into Abel Tasman you have to travel by boat (or kayak).
The 60km Abel Tasman Coast Track is one of New Zealand’s Great Walks and one of the best (multiday) trails on the South Island. This hike will take you to the heart of the park. Plan between 3-5 days to complete this trail, depending on your experience (and the time you have available). If you prefer a shorter hike, the trail to Watering Cove is nice and easy and offers splendid views.
Another wonderful outdoor activity in Abel Tasman National Park is kayaking. Don’t worry of you don’t own a kayak, you can easily rent one in Marahau. Before setting out on the water you will complete a thorough safety briefing from the staff of the kayak rental company. Be sure to bring plenty of water and splash on lots of sunscreen on a sunny day.
Contributed by Lotte from Phenomenal Globe Travel Blog
New Zealand is known for its amazing, natural locations to visit, and there is plenty of this to see along the east coast of the South Island. Hokitika River Gorge must not be missed, and you will also be glad to know, it’s free, and tour buses don’t go there.
Hokitika Gorge is located about 30 kilometres inland from the small town of Hokitika. The roads are skinny, and there are several turns to get there marked with small signs. Driving here can sometimes feel like you’re going the wrong way or in the middle of farmland, but believe me, it will be worth the journey.
Once arriving at the car park, you have a choice to walk 150 metres to the viewing platform, 450 metres to the Swing Bridge that you can walk over, or 650 metres to the river’s edge. Furthermore, the first viewing platform is accessible by wheelchairs. The entire walk is easy, very short to complete, and suitable for anyone. On the return back to the car park, it will be slightly elevated going uphill.
When you see the beautiful blue waters of Hokitika Gorge for the first time, you will be amazed and excited that such a thing exists. Since the water is glacier fed, it will always have some of the rock flour that helps create the characteristic colour. Although, after heavy rainfall the water takes on a greyish tone and tends to be less vibrant. Try dipping your toes in the freezing, below temperature waters. Sadly, the area is not suitable for swimming.
Allow yourself about 1 hour to visit, walk the short 2 kilometre return track, take plenty of pictures and have a look around at all the different sections of the gorge.
Contributed by Chris from The Aquarius Traveller
Here are some of the best places to visit in New Zealand on the north island:
I was lucky enough to call New Zealand home for four years, and one of my favourites destinations is a place called Kerosene Creek, found 28 kilometres from Rotorua. If you visit Rotorua, I strongly advise adding this to your itinerary.
Kerosene Creek is a stream of warm to hot water that is geothermally heated from the natural spring that is bubbling away underneath the ground. The stream weaves into several little coves and slightly deeper hot pools ideal for relaxing and bathing in. The stream passes through lush green bush that surrounds it, creating a really magical experience.
Little waterfalls are created as the water cascades downstream from hot pool to hot pool. I love to let the water rush over my head, washing the aches and pains of my body away. It can also be fun to give yourself a free mud spa, although avoid getting any water or mud in your eyes and mouth.
We spent a few hours here in the late afternoon sitting in the pools, just relaxing, and enjoying the environment. Make sure you bring a towel, a waterproof bag, drinking water and ideally some rubber shoes or sandals as the sides of the stream are quite slippery. Please take any rubbish away with you.
To travel to Kerosene Creek, take Highway 5 South from Rotorua. Pass Lake Ngahewa on your right and then take a left turn down Old Waiotapu Rd. After driving on a short gravel road for 2-3 minutes you will arrive at the free car park. I wouldn’t recommend going after dark or too late in the evening when there aren’t many people around, and don’t leave any valuables in your car, as break-in’s have been known in the area.
For more New Zealand tips, if you are traveling to Auckland, don’t miss 21 Free Things to do In Auckland.
Contributed by Wes from Walkabout Wes
Northland is one of the lesser-explored regions of New Zealand despite the area being home to the tourist hotspots of Cape Reinga; Russell and Paihia. It is considered off-the-beaten-track and as a result you’re likely to have the region’s tourist attractions and beaches almost to yourself.
Northland has earned the nickname of the ‘Winterless North’ because the weather is typically warm and mild. Thus, it’s the perfect place to go beach hunting. Some of the best beaches in Northland include Whale Bay and Matapouri beach on the Tutukaka Coast (a short drive from Whangarei city). Also, worth a visit is 90-mile beach towards Kaitaia – interestingly, if you have a 4WD vehicle you can drive the length of the beach.
No visit to Northland is complete without a visit to Cape Reinga – the Northernmost point in New Zealand and the point where the Pacific and Tasman oceans meet. Get to Cape Reinga for sunrise or sunset for the best views.
The best restaurants and accomodation options in Northland can be found in the busy beachside towns of Paihia and Russell. In Paihia – check out El Cafe a casual restaurant serving delicious Mexican food. In Russell – the historic Duke of Marlborough is a fantastic place to stay and they also have an excellent on-site restaurant.
Some unique and fun things to do in Northland include the Te Paki Sand Dunes (en-route to Cape Reinga); Tane Mahuta (the largest Kauri tree in the country) and a boat tour in Paihia.
Contributed by Aimee and Paul from Snappy Happy Travel
Rotorua in New Zealand’s north island is renowned for its amazing geothermal activity as it is located in the Pacific Ring of Fire.
There are heaps of wonderful things to do in Rotorua, from the bubbling sulphuric pools through to the Maori heritage sites, this town is an incredibly unique place that is worthy of a few days visit.
Rotorua is easily reached by car or by Intercity public bus (it is a 3.5 hour drive from Auckland). There is also a small domestic airport there too.
If you want to check out the colourful geothermal landscapes head to Wai O Tapu Thermal Wonderland or Waimangu Thermal Valley – the youngest geothermal eco-system in the world. Alternatively you can take a soak in the geothermal waters at the beautiful lakeside Polynesian Spa, or enjoy a mud bath spa treatment at Hells Gate.
There are plenty of other non-geothermal activities in Rotorua – head out to Redwoods Forest for a day of zip-lining fun, or a more sedate treetop walk. Learn about the Māori – the indigenous Polynesian people of New Zealand at places like Te Puia or Whakarewarewa, Tamaki Village. At both these spots you can trytraditional hangi dinner (food cooked using natural springs and steam in the ground) and watch live entertainment including the famous haka routine.
Contributed by Caroline from C K Travels
If you’re looking for an off-the-beaten-track beach to visit in New Zealand, look no further than the small coastal town of Raglan! Located on the West Coast of New Zealand’s North Island, in the Waikato region, Raglan is much-loved by locals but often missed by tourists.
On the West Coast of New Zealand’s North Island, you will discover Raglan – a small coastal town in the Waikato region. This thriving little beach town is a hidden gem, that is often missed by tourists.
With unique black sand beaches and a world-renowned epic surf break at Manu bay, Raglan is a laid-back escape. While small, there is plenty to keep you busy, from visiting the beach, dining at the local eateries or checking out the creative artisan and independent boutique shops.
Raglan an amazing spot to visit year-round; enjoy thriving hustle and bustle over warm summer months or take it slow with chilly morning beach walks and cosy cafe visits during the winter months.
You can easily reach Raglan by car or bus in just over 30 minutes from the nearest city, Hamilton. Nearby you will find plenty of outdoor activities like the stunning Bridal Veil Falls or a more strenuous hike up Karioi summit track.
Don’t leave town without grabbing a coffee at Wyld or from local coffee roasters Raglan Roast, enjoy the famous fish and chips on the wharf or sit down for a bite to eat at Ulo’s Kitchen.
Raglan is one of New Zealand’s hidden gems, once you get a taste of this stunning coastal spot you won’t want to leave!
Contributed by Emma from Emma – Daydream Believer
There are some awesome places to explore in New Zealand and we have made sure there’s a good variety. Why not make a road trip of it and visit a number of the best places to visit in New Zealand. Road trips are just one of the best ways to explore a country and one we would highly recommend.
If you don’t fancy a road trip, then you can still plan your holiday to include at least one if not more of these wonderful places.
Have you visited any of these places, when you visited New Zealand? Which was your favourite place to visit? Are you maybe planning a trip to New Zealand and will add at least one of these into your itinerary? If so, which one? Let us know, by leaving a comment below.
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